• Will this year's Giro d'Italia be a tale of man biting shark? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
If the 2014 Tour de France was the story of the shark biting the man, this year's Giro d'Italia may tell the tale of how the man bit back, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
13 May 2016 - 4:52 PM  UPDATED 13 May 2016 - 4:55 PM

Man Bites Murdoch is the career autobiography of Bruce Guthrie, former editor of The Age and the Melbourne Herald Sun, including events that led to his decision to sue Rupert Murdoch, his employer at the Herald Sun, for unfair dismissal - for which he claimed victory in the Victorian Supreme Court in May 2010.

It's the quintessential David versus Goliath battle, demonstrating that even today, the seemingly omnipotent can, under certain conditions and the right circumstances, be brought to heel.

"Fourth place at last year's Tour followed by an ignominious expulsion at the Vuelta appears to have unsettled him."

While not making any direct comparisons with Murdoch, I did get the feeling that, before this Giro d'Italia began in Apeldoorn exactly one week ago, Vincenzo Nibali thought himself superior to his rivals. Exactly how much, I'm not so sure, but superior nonetheless.

And why not? After all, the eminently proud Sicilian is the only contender to have won all three Grand Tours; certainly, the only contender to have claimed the Tour de France, which he won convincingly in 2014, and one of two to have won the Giro and Vuelta a EspaƱa, the others being Ryder Hesjedal and Alejandro Valverde, respectively.

While admitting he "struggled a bit" at the traditional Giro warm-up that ended a fortnight before the Grande Partenza, seven minutes behind overall winner Mikel Landa at the Giro del Trentino, confirmation of his superiority on paper came on the opening time trial in Apeldoorn, where the Astana leader finished best of the pre-race favourites, 19 seconds down on Tom Dumoulin, in 16th place.

It was where he needed, and where most expected him, to be.

Wednesday in Benevento, the day before the 17 kilometre climb to Roccaraso, where the sixth stage was to end, Nibali, Lo Squalo di Messina (The Shark of Messina), was sitting pretty in sixth place on GC, 26 seconds behind Dumoulin. Armed with one of the strongest line-ups (in terms of depth, matched only by Movistar and Team Sky), most pundits expected a big shake-up on the first real mountain stage of the race, and, just as he did at the 2014 Tour's opening mountain leg to La Planche des Belle Filles, The Shark was expected to begin his feeding frenzy.

Instead, as Lotto-Soudal's Tim Wellens time trialled his way to victory up the stepped ascent, the furious pace set by Astana and then Movistar neutralised any long-range attacks. Then the strangest thing happened. With 3.5km remaining Nibali, the most experienced Grand Tour leader in the pack and renowned for his race smarts, chose completely the wrong moment to attack. Ironically, it was the least experienced leader who made the right move at the right moment, Dumoulin utilising a combination of intuition, power and timing to counter when Sky reeled in Nibali, taking Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) with him.

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Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) slipped away from the bunch at around 71kms to go with team-mate Pim Ligthart setting up an impressive solo victory. Meanwhile, several GC riders loosened the grip on the cards against their chest.

In the Grand (Tour) scheme of things the gaps are unlikely to be significant. One minute and eight seconds separate the first 15 on GC, one of which will surely be crowned champion come May 29 in Turin. But this is a less assured Nibali than two years previous. Fourth place at last year's Tour followed by an ignominious expulsion at the Vuelta appears to have unsettled him; a man who, from an outsider's perspective, lacks the steady mind of Chris Froome or Nairo Quintana, and often looks anxious.

Perhaps that's where we can draw some commonality between him and the aforementioned media mogul, who, apart from his enormous wealth and influence, is known for his occasionally rash, illogical behaviour. I still ask myself: In full view of the cameras, why, at last year's Vuelta, would he hitch a ride like he did for as long as he did?

What is certain is that this Giro d'Italia is far from Nibali's to lose, and while his rivals may respect him, they do not fear him.

Was the first mountain stage telling for Vincenzo Nibali?
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